With more than 84 million YouTube views since its launch on March 5, the “Kony 2012” campaign has garnered a whirlwind of both positive and negative media attention. However, few could have predicted the breakdown that took place last week on a high-traffic street corner in Pacific Beach.
Invisible Children co-founder Jason Russell, the face of the “Kony 2012” campaign, became the face of a media firestorm with sources ranging from The Los Angeles Times and broadcast news stations to entertainment programs such as TMZ and Access Hollywood. This has called into question the future of “Kony 2012.”
Rebecca Nee, assistant professor in the School of Journalism and Media Studies explained how students in her media technology in the global environment class reacted to “Kony 2012’s” initial popularity.
“My class is very interested in everything that’s gone on,” she said. “I polled my class and 75 percent of them heard about it on Facebook.”
It was clear social media played a central role in “Kony 2012’s” viral status, as immediate backlash against the video’s creators sparked a flood of social media responses.
“The controversy had an impact … celebrity retweets had an impact and then the mainstream media coverage (had an impact),” Nee said. “Those would be the three things that I would say really made this go viral.”
Last Friday, IC followers were baffled by how someone at the face of a crusade to bring good could mentally deteriorate in such a short period of time. The credibility of Russell’s ability to run a campaign diminished, leaving “Kony 2012” without a clear leader.
In a short survey collected from 63 upper-division San Diego State students from various courses of study, 71 percent of respondents said their opinion of the campaign stayed the same after Russell’s breakdown.
For years, IC has poured its efforts into awareness programs aimed to stop the use of child soldiers and child prostitution, and, with “Kony 2012,” utilized Russell as an inspirational poster child for good intentions. However, the Kony campaign is still in its early stages and its foundation is in the midst of being formed. Can the organization accomplish its original goals without Russell calling out marching orders?
In the same survey of upper-division SDSU students, 43 percent were sure the campaign could survive without Russell’s credibility because of the popularity and support the cause has already garnered, while 27 percent were unsure of the campaign’s future.
“I think that people supported the campaign from the beginning and still want to do something,” journalism junior Theresa Greene said. “But with everything that’s happened … I think people are so reluctant. It needs people in the forefront, generating support and being those speakers for it. I don’t think it can run on the initiative of average people. It won’t happen. Nothing happens like that.”
Though IC followers may still be inspired by the organization’s fundamental purpose, there is little precedent for the consequences of Russell’s meltdown. Only time will tell if the light shone on the tragedies in Uganda will be dimmed by the story of those who illuminated them.